Review: Reefer Madness: The Musical (JR Theatre Company)

Reefer Madness: The Musical is currently onstage at The Lower Ossington Theatre. It is based on a 1938 propaganda film with the same name. It tells the cautionary tale of an all-American youth who sees his life destroyed by whacky tobacky; the demon weed marijuana.

Ossington Avenue is located in a trendy part of Toronto. It is populated by bars, restaurants, clothing stores and other establishments frequented by artists and young “hip people”. In other words, it is the perfect place to reach our troubled youth. If the PMRC is going to deliver their much needed talks of prohibition and censorship, “Family First” and “Just Say No”, this is the place to do it!

But seriously folks…

As we entered the theatre, some of the cast were already onstage. Most notably was the Lecturer (Michael De Rose). He commanded the stage with the charisma of a televangelist ready to morph into Iggy Pop.

On the second level, a choir was half-assembled. The choir on “higher ground” would later remind us of a gospel choir worthy of Reverend Al Green’s stamp of approval.

The Lecturer slams the door shut and the mood in the theatre becomes sombre and serious. The telling of The Jimmy Harper Affair begins.

Jimmy is a fine young high school student who reads Shakespeare to his best girl, Mary Lane. They also hang out at a malt shop and swing dance.

Sprinkle that sterile image with a generous topping of marijuana. All of a sudden, Richie, Potsie and Ralph Malph morph into Ricky, Julian and Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys, only funnier. One might call it Happy Daze.

There’s a wonderfully talented cast of over twenty, and they all take turns shining and starring at times. I thought the most stellar moments were when everyone was together onstage.

The cast of Reefer Madness includes: Michael De Rose, Jesse Nerenberg, Laura Jean Elligsen, Matthew Bernard, Clara Scott, Thomas Duplessie, and Allana Reoch. Those are the people listed in the press release, but everyone involved is excellent.

It’s hard to believe how well this cast works together. The choreography is incredible thanks to Amanda Nagy and the singing is great. The props are inventive, fun and hilarious. Everyone makes his or her character believable. On top of that, most actors play more than one character.

Speaking of that, the costumes were sensational and special effects simple yet magnificent. Jesus was particularly well adorned. It was great to hear our saviour sing. I may let my hair grow and stop bathing until the end of Reefer Madness: The Musical as a result. If hockey players can have playoff beards, why shouldn’t I have “Reefer hair”?

My friend Stan is a huge Frank Zappa fan. At intermission I said, “Our friend Mr. Zappa would love this!” That’s verbal shorthand for: “This is intelligent and hilarious and the people onstage are extremely talented and well-rehearsed.”

I didn’t know at the time that creators Dan Studney and Kevin Murphy conceived of Reefer Madness: The Musical while listening to Zappa on a road trip in California.

Stan and I talked about Ralphie, maybe my favourite character. “Yeah, we all knew someone just like that, didn’t we?” The truth is, every character is believable and will remind you of someone you know, or knew.

If Zappa, Trailer Park Boys, Grease, The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Russ Meyer films appeal to you, you will LOVE Reefer Madness: The Musical!

There were very minor things we disliked about Reefer Madness: The Musical. One or two minor technical glitches distracted nothing from the performance though.

The only thing I smoke is smog, so the herbal cigarette smoke sat in the back of my throat and I needed to hide a couple of coughs. It would have been nice if the band came out for a bow too – they deserved it.

Another thing I dislike is that my wife’s work schedule doesn’t allow for me to take her to see it. This play is a riot. You will want to see it more than once too!

From now on, every time I see WWJD, I am going to think of Jesus in Reefer Madness: The Musical!

Details:

Reefer Madness: The Musical plays from June 9 until June 18

  • Tickets range from $27.50 to $37.50
  • tickets are available at reefertoronto.com, by calling 416-915-6747 or in person